Book Critique - The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao
Stars: 4.5 / 5
Recommendation: Yes, I would say pick it up, for a dose of reality through the eyes of people who have seen life with hardships yet find their zone and live on.
The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao is a 2007 novel written by Dominican American author Junot Diaz. Published in September of 2007, the novel is primarily set in Paterson, New Jersey, in the mid-seventies to late-eighties, chronicling the life of Oscar De Leon and also about the curse that has been plaguing his family for generations. The novel won the author a Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and National Book Critics Circle Award in 2008, among other awards.
Oscar De Leon aka Oscar Wao, is a Dominican American overweight boy, who is a nerdy guy always lost in his books of science fiction and fantasy novels. All he ever wants is a person to love, find true love. Apart from being obsessed with these, he is also obsessed with the curse that has been plaguing his family for generations, fuku.
The entire plot is narrative style with narrations given by many characters in the book, some as first person narration by that character or second person narrative about the main character through that character's view point. It floats between New Jersey in US and Santo Domingo in Dominican Republic, between past and present - as much as present the book is set in.
Author Junot Diaz shows Oscar's obsession with his fantasy fiction novels at every turn of the page, beginning with a quote from Fantastic Four's Vol 1, No. 49, published in April 1966, by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby and also a snippet from the poem The Schooner Fight by Derek Walcott. The entire book is filled with references to many science fiction movies and books, fantasy novels, TV shows, connecting the references somehow to Oscar's life and to the people surrounding him.
Although there is heavy usage of Spanglish through the narration, which was really difficult for a reader such as me, who knows nothing about Spanish except for Si and De Nada. Constant use of google to understand the meaning of those lines was taxing. However, what was helpful was the detailed footnotes the author has given with regards to key events in the Dominican Republic's country and history of its people, including mythical, movies, political and economics.
The entire book is divided into three parts. Each part shows the reader Oscar's life starting him as a seven year old up until his existence ceases, giving perspective of life of other characters too during that time, the life of the DR people during the tyrannical rule in the far-past, near-past and present as the characters are set in.
As much as Junot Diaz centers the tale around Oscar Wao, he also gives the readers the lives of other characters around Oscar Wao. In particular he generated in me as a reader a lot of pity and pain for Oscar's sister Lola more than their mother, Beli. And a lot of insight into the way of life the people in DR had under a dictatorial rule. Those chapters got chills up my back.
The author has a heavy hand with the f-words, raw raunchy language, not hesitating to use crude sentences to describe the situation of DR people, either during the dictatorial rule or even after the central characters found freedom in United States later. He also uses several Hindi and Indian words along-side his Spanglish in the plot, although they are fewer and farther in between.
I am normally not into such kind of fiction, but this book was loaned to me by a good friend, and who had expressed that I would love it. I must say, I wasn’t bored (which I feared), or slept off (which I feared as the second incident to happen). Instead I was drawn into the characters that the author had spun and at times during the story-line I even felt them beside me, almost enacting their roles.
Author Junot Diaz has excellent penmanship, even though I find the language rather crude and raunchy, though nothing lesser than a few other authors I have read. Yet, he has maintained the plot-line between past and present well woven, without letting the readers confused or lost in the myriad of incidents and movements within. My heart went out to the hard-life the DR people had gone through.
In the end I would say, a well-deserved Pulitzer Prize to Junot Diaz, despite the colorful language.